For many years I have been arguing that all habitats on Cape Cod are coastal habitats. Regardless of where you live on the Cape you will have an impact on its bays, estuaries, and shoreline. Because the Cape has a sole source aquifer, almost everything that we pour down the drains or deposit on the land makes its way to coastal waters. That is why we must be careful on how we consume many products, particularly chemicals.
Nitrogen loading continues to be a major problem in shallow bays and estuaries. From septic systems to lawn fertilizers to road runoff to atmospheric deposition from automobile exhausts, excess nitrogen is causing the eutrophication of coastal waters. This results in algae blooms, fish kills, and a general decline in water quality and species diversity.
It is essential that land surrounding these fragile waters be set aside for conservation. That way they function to absorb nutrients, block runoff, and prevent coastal erosion. What we now realize is that we can extend this conservation policy to open marine waters as well. Marine sanctuaries, such as the Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, provide another layer of needed protection along heavily populated coastlines. A fully protected marine reserve is a valuable tool for the restoration of impacted areas.
The fishing industry benefits from marine sanctuaries in several ways. If widely used species are given additional protection, it gives them the opportunity to recover diminished stocks. These, in turn, can spread the adults and young fish into nearby fishing grounds. In a sense, these sanctuaries provide a refuge for targeted species, allowing them the time and space to recover.
Probably the most important benefit from conservation is the protection of bottom or benthic habitats. By regulating fishing methods, habitats can be restored from earlier damage. This promotes a greater biodiversity of species which enhances the overall recovery of economically important populations.
The marine environment does have a remarkable ability to recover from various disturbances. However, the pressures placed on these resources are sometimes so intense that many animals have been forced to the edge of extinction. Identifying and designating large areas of the marine environment for sanctuary status will help sustain these systems for many years. And applying our scientific understanding of population fluctuations, fish life cycles, and habitat protection, will help ensure that these resources will always be there.
Copyright Gil Newton 2009 Thanks to Chris Dumas for logo image.